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What is a Veterinary Pharmacologist?


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When you are ill, chances are your doctor will send you to pick up medications from a pharmacy to help you feel better. Did you know there are also veterinary pharmacologists? These specialists help research, discover, create, and test new drugs for pets before they are distributed. Once on the market, other pharmacologists sell and recommend the drugs at special pharmacies.

Education and Training

Most veterinary pharmacologists are required to get their certification through the American College of Veterinary Clinical Pharmacology (ACVCP). This is where students hoping to take up their residency program as a pharmacology student will find their program.

Like most specialists, they must attend a full four-year veterinary medicine program before applying to their residency of choice. Once accepted, students will attend two phases of the program. The first certifies them, and the second gives their degree and permission to begin practicing veterinary pharmacology. Students must write a research manuscript as well as take a rigorous exit exam in both phases.

There are 13 programs that are listed and considered acceptable by the ACVCP; they also have listed two alternate programs for potential students. Once they are diplomats, pharmacology students can practice in veterinary hospitals, universities, and pharmaceutical industries.


As a general rule, veterinarians should know the basics of the drugs they are prescribing to your pet. However, if you want to know more about them or have concerns, a veterinary pharmacist will be the best person to consult. They can tell you:

  • What the drug treats
  • How long your pet should take the drug
  • Possible side effects and allergies
  • How long the drug has been on the market

These are all important factors when considering medicine for your pet. For pet owners who prefer holistic and organic therapies, they can sometimes suggest alternative treatments besides pharmaceutical drugs.

Issues and Treatments Handled

It is the responsibility of veterinary pharmacologists to create and distribute safe drugs to patients. Many vet pharmacologists work behind the scenes developing these drugs. Most of the drugs are tested on humans before being given to animals. This way, they know how to adjust the drug’s properties and ingredients to make them safe for animals.

All drugs must be approved before being sold. If your veterinarian recommends a prescription, it is best that you do not purchase an over the counter drug; it may not be strong enough to cure or treat your pet; or worse, it could be unsafe.

There are two separate categories of pharmacology; clinical and neuropharmacology. Clinical pharmacology is the study of drugs on humans in clinical trials. Neuropharmacology shows the effects of drugs on the nervous system. Both of these are important to observe when creating or tweaking the properties of a drug.

As mentioned earlier, veterinary pharmacologists can distribute and inform about certain drugs. However, they cannot diagnose conditions; that is up to your veterinarian. When picking up medicine for your pets, they are the best person to ask specific questions on the drug or even over the counter medicine.

Qualifying the Specialist

Normally, if a veterinary pharmacologist is distributing veterinary drugs, they will have their degree or certification framed on a wall where you can see it. However, if you are curious to see who is registered and a member of the ACVCP, you can check on their website. There is a list of the members who graduated and were certified.

When picking up medications for your pet, a few questions you could ask are:

  • How long has this drug been on the market?
  • How and when was it tested and approved?
  • What are some side effects my pet may experience?
  • How long should my pet take it?
  • What should I do if my pet has an allergic reaction to this particular drug?

All of these questions are extremely important to ask when trying a new medication for your pet. While most medications have the information on the box, sometimes it is good to have reassurance from a professional.

Luckily for most research pharmacologists and those that work in universities, they are constantly working on developing projects. They may have to attend lectures and seminars to keep their certification valid, but that is all. Pharmaceutical dispensers, however, must do that and take courses as well. This helps them keep their knowledge up to date and credible.

Interesting Facts

A word of caution when visiting veterinary pharmacies: over the last couple of years, some pharmacologists have changed prescriptions. Around 35% of prescriptions were thought to have been changed and around 17% of pet owners have experienced the death of a pet due to prescriptions being changed.

It is not the job of the pharmacologist to change your pet’s prescription. It is not really yours, either. While it is possible to get your prescription filled somewhere besides your veterinary clinic, that prescription is what your veterinarian thinks your pet needs.

The results can be deadly when you allow a pharmacologist to change your pet’s prescription. If they suggest changing it, politely refuse until you have spoken with your pet’s veterinarian. Make sure to check your label on the prescription before giving it to the pet to make sure that it is the correct dose your doctor prescribed.

It is also important that you do not give your pet human medications; they are not humans. The healing properties Motrin or Benedryl have on us could be extremely toxic to your pet. If you only need an over-the-counter drug, you can ask a veterinary pharmacist that is the best to use and then purchase it.

We must use caution as humans when taking medicines, so we must be extra careful with pets as they have no voice to express their needs.

Veterinary pharmacologists do important work in the animal medical field. Without them, there would be no cures or healing for sick pets. They work around the clock to provide safe medicines for life-threatening conditions such as epilepsy, heartworm and parasite prevention, antibiotics, and much more.

Once again, check with your veterinary pharmacologist to see how drugs will affect your pet and how successful they are. Don’t be afraid to ask questions! They are there to help your pet feel as healthy as possible!

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